Updated on 09/17/2011 10:47AM

An account wagering boon?


In the closing hours of the regular legislative session in Carson City, Nev., a bill was passed that could provide Nevada race books with a turnaround in their slumping parimutuel handle.

The legislation authorizes Nevada's race books to accept parimutuel race bets off-site and from anywhere outside Nevada that allows account wagering. There are 14 states besides Nevada that allow telephone wagering on horse racing, including California.

Before race books can accept bets from outside of the state, gaming regulators have to set up rules and have their security concerns satisfied.

Nevada race books took in $470 million in parimutuel handle on horseracing last year, a drop of $17 million from 2001. Nevada's horseracing handle grew from $126 million in 1991 to a high of $619 million in 1998, and then dropped 24 percent from 1998 to the end of 2002.

Casino executives believe that account wagering in other states is a big factor in the decline. Tony Cabot, a partner in the law firm of Lionel, Sawyer & Collins in Nevada, believes that the new bill was needed to get Nevada back into the game.

"Hopefully, it will place Nevada on a competitive parity with California and other states that now offer account wagering," Cabot said.

Account wagering accounts for 4 to 6 percent of all parimutuel horse race betting in the U.S.

Bob Gregorka, race book operations director of Coast Casinos, can't wait for the new law to kick in. Coast Casinos, with four properties in Las Vegas, has the largest horse race phone betting system in the state. Gregorka believes that the new freedom of going interstate could help recapture the handle of years past, but warns that it is all in the fine print.

"It depends on how our gaming regulators set up the parameters," he said.

Nevada's gaming laws and regulations are the toughest in the world. The price of doing the new business is also a concern. "Higher racetrack fees might also be a byproduct of the new terrain," Gregorka said.

John Avello, race and sports book director for Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, believes that this is only the start of a long process before customers can open wagering accounts in Nevada.

"We have a lot of work left to do," he said. "The big step is acquiring the technology needed to satisfy our gaming regulators. The first step will be to work it out in our home state before going national."

But Avello shares the enthusiasm of Gregorka and other race book operators in Nevada, once final approval is complete. "I will certainly get into account wagering when it goes," he said.

Regaining a competitive edge and turning around the handle trend in Nevada will ultimately lay in the hands of consumers.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.